Posted by: Dawud Israel | March 15, 2010

My Muhasaba Notebook

“Take account of yourself before you are taken to account”
-Imam Ali (radiallahu anhu)

Muhasaba is an important aspect of one’s tazkiya. It is essentially like a Judgment Day at the end of every day. Its really a regulatory-style form of development where you evaluate yourself day in and day out. So at the end of the day I started reviewing the good and the bad in my day, making shukr for the good and istighfar for the bad. I use a notebook to help me, jotting down in short-hand (so anyone who reads it won’t be able to understand) what I did but other days when I am tired I just review it in my head. You can conceive of it as a type of ‘politics of the nafs.’

My notebook of deeds hopefully overlaps with the words of the scholars in resemblance

Its really a remarkable experience. You feel as if you are more present. You are more involved with yourself. There is something about our society called de-centering where an individual is seen as powerless against the forces and this has to do with history (scientific ideas such as: the sun is the center of the universe, man came from apes, your unconscious plays a big part in your life and you can’t control it). But when you do muhasaba somehow, you feel totally centered. In taking account of your day, from how you woke up, what you ate, how much you ate, your concentration in your salah, your comments and conversations with people, thoughts that crossed your mind, how much work you got done, how your distractions affects your ibadah, etc…in all that you find an immense sense of transformation.

Why is it important? The least of all it shows your Lord that His weak servant is putting in his best effort, it shows and confirms sincerity.

Here are my reflections thus far:

-The day is like a thread on a threadspool: if you stress it too much it breaks, but if you gently tug it, it lends itself and grows longer. Basically what I am saying is if you rush through the day, nothing comes out of it, but if you go through the day with ease and deliberation, it seems to lengthen and bring more good to you. Nabi salallahu alayhi wasalam said: at-tajeel minas-shaytaan–haste is from shaytan. And throughout the day, I see how there are many different threads running through the day.

-Our society is very hectic and doing the muhasaba somehow slows it down.
You are more aware of what you are doing and strive to do better the next day. It is like savoring the taste of ice-cream in your mouth, where you experience the different texture. No, its more than that, its like when you find out a loved one has died, everything seems surreal and somewhat unbelievable, everything has a totally new gravity and power to it. That is what it feels like.

-Allah shows you He is aware of your thoughts, and reflects that into the world. You realize when you make an intention to do good and don’t fulfill it, either 2 things happen: Allah helps you fulfill that intention through another opportunity (i.e. need to pray, or wish to give charity) and in this way Allah helps me in my own muhsaba. The other thing that happens is a bad experience will occur…why? Maybe it’s a sign of weak intention but maybe if I am patient with it, a sin is taken away from me because of that, so in that regard, again, Allah assists and make things easy for me.

-You see the effect of a sin or something makruh on you. I can see how I fell into something and how I got out of it. Perhaps I was in a bad mood or perhaps exposed to something troubling or simply perhaps entertained a silly thought.

-Throughout the day you see glimpses of Allah’s intention towards you and it is nothing but good. You realize how you run into people you were thinking about. You find brothers willing to help or share their generosity. Sometimes my going out and about near the masjid coincides with prayer time, so it is easy for me to pray.

-You see the subtlety and change in a person’s attitude when you do good to them. You really begin to wonder if you offended someone or not, or if you inspired them or not, if you made them think or made them bored. It may not be what you did but what you didn’t do or could’ve done even though there was no expectation upon you. And then you come to really push to be thoughtful and strive to consider the changing nature of their heart. With muhsaba my observational skills improve and I take improvement more seriously.

-The emotions people have and experience, the turmoil and changes in their heart are very easily seen. I have noticed when I see relatives and friends after a long period of time, I can see how little they have changed, which means in reality, how little their daily routine has changed. Its a type of belittlement and a reductionism but humans are quite simple if you study them from the perspective of muhasaba. I speak of myself. The course of our day changes very little. It is very humbling to realize you did maybe one new activity in a day, you made maybe one new friend in an entire month, you spent how much money despite how much you have and yet others who have less don’t hesitate to spend.

-I get a real feel for my thought process. I already in a sense do a muhsaba of my thoughts, or rather certain thoughts, when I decide to blog about them, recall them and judge them. But when I do muhasaba of all my thoughts, and try to see their effect, how they effect my heart and behavior, how they cheer me up or down, I come to better see the thread and patterns in my thoughts, how they develop, what result they have, what I can gain or lose from them.

-Oaths: Often I find myself making oaths with my Lord to fulfill a certain task or carry out a good deed.

-You discover faults in yourself you never noticed. For example, I realize I say thing on an impulsive level, without thought or consideration or realization of how others may perceive it, but when I think for a longer period of time before I speak it is usually has a positive effect on others.

-You see how often you remember Allah. How often you recall death and how you avoid the thought of it. You also see how your dhikr rarely changes from day to day and stays more or less the same or declines, it isn’t easy to maximise it and thats where the struggles rewards is.

-You push to better a bad day. At night when I realize I haven’t done very much good, even though I think myself as some hotshot for that day, I am pushed to make extra acts of worship or find some good to do since the day isn’t over. The Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam would go out and night and give away food if it was in excess.

-I also come to realize and see the circumstancial accomodating nature of rahmah and the Shariah. Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad mentions that, “Fiqh is the joyful focussing on the moment,” and this highlights how if you come to understand the multilevel situational aspects of the Shariah you see how fiqh is applied. Sometimes it isn’t as easy as making wudhu, sometimes you need make tayamum, and sometimes it best you stay silent and speak about something at a later time to a brother, or perhaps you realize the religion makes rukhsa (ease) in some areas because of circumstance and also see the hidden benefits in that ease and also in the Shariah when that rukhsa isn’t present.

Overall, I find a real powerful humanity in muhasaba. In myself and others, I see how vulnerable and fragile the children of Adam alayhi salam are. I realize how Majestic Allah SWT is. And how each day contains a promise of something better.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.

Additional Reading:

Al-Muhasabah on being honest with yourself

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